Archives for the month of: September, 2012

To know the truth, all you have to do is close your eyes

I’m reading ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Roberts at the moment and finding his words so touching, so real and resonant. He is describing the colourful and spiritual characters he meets whilst in Bombay, but much of his experiences and emotions strike a chord with me, and I imagine anyone else who feels they have been running away from some demons. In one passage early on in the book – which is nearly a thousand pages long, so this means around p.200 – one of the characters tells our main protagonist that the world we see is an illusion, it’s only what we’ve created with our eyes and with our words. Such creations, illusions, are not important – it’s when we close our eyes that we see the most. Indeed, I’m realising that much of what I assumed to be important over the years has been contained within the news I’ve watched, the injustices I’ve seen or read about, the opinions I’ve formed and discussed with others. This has been how I’ve formed my reality, and have then proceeded to impose it on others with each political statement or discussion. I’ve tried so hard to create my identity through what I say or do, particularly in relation to my work. But now there is a gentle voice inside me, telling me that none of this really matters if we don’t understand ourselves on a deeper level. We must establish truth, and peace, within ourselves before we can really apply it, or argue for it, in our lives. This implies a personal journey, not one that is influenced by books, newspapers or what someone said at a particularly good seminar or conference.

This reminds me of a yoga retreat I attended a few months ago, where I felt compelled to ask how we can integrate yoga into the work we do. I was talking about myself really – struggling to marry Buddhist principles of inner truth and enlightenment with the external world where war and human rights violations rage on, the world I was so familiar with and in which we fight a battle of right and wrong with such self-assuredness of which side we are on. The reply from my instructor had finality to it: ideologies, polemics, treatises – these are all meaningless. It is our understanding of human nature, of universal truths and what binds us all, that’s found deep within our souls and not in our words or deeds, that can move us towards peace.

I’m still struggling with this concept, finding it hard to let go of the importance I’ve attached to hours spent in debating rooms and seminars, in meetings and briefings, posing arguments and counter-arguments, distinguishing extreme positions from measured ones. But I know I’m beginning to reach some acceptance that I will only be happy in life if I set aside those external elements which I’ve hitherto relied on to define who I am and what I think. I have to take the time to listen to, as well as confront myself, instead of others.

This means learning to be present, which for me – a habitually impatient person – is the biggest test of all. It is a daily challenge to stop fretting about the past and future, about not having a job and not having money, and instead embrace whichever emotion is arising at that moment. The old phrase that we must learn to love ourselves before we can love others rings so true when confronted by one’s demons. You have to learn to love them. And in embracing the bad as well as the good, I have had moments of clarity, where I realise that my inner truth will come to me if I just stop willing it or forcing it to happen.  Transitions take time, much longer than we expect, and that is because we have to heal from all the anxieties and insecurities which have stood in the way of our hopes and dreams.

And in order to heal, we must allow time for creativity. I’m parroting Julia Cameron and the Artist’s Way once again. But it is actually in my moments of stillness that exciting creative ideas emerge. And it is in performing acts of creativity – writing my blog, belly-dancing, the rhythmic in and out breath as I swim a front crawl up and down the pool – that I am healed. With each act of creativity, I feel inspired. I have in mind that I would like to write a book, – maybe this is in fact my ultimate dream – but I won’t necessarily start writing the book now. Ideas for it come and go, and this is the gestation period which Julia Cameron refers to in the Artist’s Way. We cannot force the birth of a new and exciting creative project, just as we cannot force our inner peace. We have to acknowledge the ideas, gently, and keep them within us to grow and blossom. If they are the dreams we really want to follow and make real, we will know from the sparkling and radiant light which emeges when we close our eyes.

What is your understanding of ‘inner truth’ and how we integrate it into our everyday lives? Is inner peace so paramount in order to make peace with others? Do political or moral opinions and values matter more? I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and comments!

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2012, new era, 5th dimension, transition explained, shift – YouTube.

A little supplement to my last blog post….fact or fiction? May the debate continue….

Is it just me, or are there a whole lot of strange occurrences this year, from the personal to the universal?

This question struck me as I was watching the news of the violent reaction to the infamous anti-Islam film on You Tube. As speculation continues as to whether the rapid escalation of the protests in Sudan, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and other Muslim countries were triggered by the film or were an expression of far greater and deeper discontent with Western powers, I’m wondering whether there is a bigger message beyond the political statements, arguments and counter arguments.

What would the Mayans have to say about all of this? They have the best knowledge after all about 2012, the year of ‘the Shift of Ages’, where many profound changes are to be expected. Some say that the sun and all the planets will align, others say that we’ll move beyond our seven chakras and connect with several more….still others say that all the extreme weather conditions, as well as the widespread political and social upheavals happening around the world, indicate a transformative and spiritual pattern which goes far deeper than any climactic or social unrest. The 21 December – the ‘end date’ in the Mayan calendar, can either be interpreted as an apocalypse, or a new beginning.

Apocalypse?

Apocalypse? (Photo credit: mikelehen)

This turbulence is new and different because it will shake us to the core, as well as our surroundings. For many of us, a dark cloud has already descended and is refusing to leave. We have to live with it, even embrace it, if we are to survive. This may sound dramatic, or complete nonsense to anybody not aware of a ‘shift’ or a change in their behaviour, attitudes, feelings and perceptions. But there are many people out there who are going through massive unprecedented transformation, at times scary and at times exhilerating. Many situations and events in our personal histories suddenly seem futile. Each day is a struggle to put our heads above the water in order not to drown in the darkness. We question everything that we used to hold dear, and we wonder where exactly our inner truth lies, and how to identify it.

I feel like my life has been flashing before me these last few days. Like characters on stage, the various people and circumstances of my past have put in an appearance.  One minute I’m sitting under an olive tree in Palestine with my dear friends there, the next I’m at Lake Victoria in Uganda, or at one of the many all night parties in Beckenham or Brixton that made up many a weekend in my twenties. Still the tears are coming – the other day, I was singing an old Judy Garland song from one of her musicals (I’m a soppy teenage obsessive when it comes to Judy, as many a friend of mine, rolling their eyes in disbelief, would tell you), and I found myself crying. It is like I’m going through a shedding process – shedding what? To move on to what? I’m not sure. But I am realising that a big change is taking place within me, and I just have to let it happen – the laughter, the tears, the heartache, the anger – they all have to wash through me, and I have to embrace them in order to truly heal. I knew that 2012 was to be my year of growth and acceptance – this was the promise I made to myself in January – but the path is harder than I had envisaged, and the results –  if there are to be any – still feel like some distance away, out of reach.

How do our erratic emotions relate to 2012, the Shift of Ages and the dawning of a new era? And what about all those unprecedented political and social events; was the Arab ‘awakening’ so-called because actually it indicates something far bigger than the sum of all its political, economical and social parts?  Can the angry and violent protests occurring around the Muslim world be explained beyond the grievances and anger felt by a significant number of the population in those regions? For me right now the debate doesn’t lie in political positioning and posturing, it lies in trying to identify in what ways our personal transitions relate to the greater universal transformation that Mayans believe will occur on 21 December. I would love to know what the Mayans themselves would say…but since I can’t travel several thousand miles to find out more, I’m hoping the blogosphere will come up with some answers!

Although sad, human nature often requires crises in order to break free from our patterns of complacency and convenience, and transform the structures which bind us. In one light, crises are actually gifts which push us to overcome our narrow thinking, assert our deepest values, and co-operate together on a grand scale.

Louis Pascal

Summer is drawing to a close already – the weather appears to be changing, after a brief Indian summer which we’d been promised since a very rainy June. This summer, as everyone gave in to Olympic fever, there has been a real buzz in the air; an atmospheric lift which has seen most Londoners being more friendly, more laid back, and living more in the moment – apparently putting their worries on hold to enjoy this most unique of holiday periods. They’ve put aside the cynicism for which us Brits are famous, and embraced new experiences and interests, the most notable being the unequivocal support which has been shown towards athletes of all races, backgrounds and physical abilities, whether at the Olympic Stadium, from the sofa at home, or in conversation on the train or in the pub. We all hope that the mood, and attitude, will last and be utilised meaningfully on a political, social and economic level.

Embracing the summer spirit: Notting Hill Carnival

Now it’s time to knuckle down and prepare for the autumn. Many view this with dread, as the season signals an end to outdoor parties and socialising and the start of more time spent at home, with oneself. It is a time to go inward, and reflect. Well, this is no new activity for me – I’m actually wondering how I embark on the autumn’s self-reflection when I seem to have spent a whole lot of my summer navel-gazing.

For thirty-somethings like myself, it appears that this whole year is one of change, which is sometimes frightening, sometimes exhilarating. How many people do I know who are questioning their life, where they’re at, where they’re going? Who, fearing the great unknown, are either continuing to be stuck in a job they don’t enjoy, or are unemployed and fluctuating between moments of excitement and moments of utter self-doubt. Sometimes it seems so much safer to stay in the former situation in order to avoid the ramifications of the latter – the highs and lows which I’ve talked about over the last few weeks. I certainly feel like I’ve learned a huge amount about myself – my fears and insecurities, my anger, my resentment – over the course of my transition, and none more so than in the last three weeks, when some gentle massaging and prodding from an acupressure practitioner seemed to open up a whole new chapter of my journey. Perhaps this would never have happened if I wasn’t out of work and forced to dig deep in order to make sense of why I’ve turned my back on old habits and old identities, to face a life of trying to be more honest about who I am and what I want.

When you embark on a transition, you don’t necessarily realise that it’s not just about leaving one career behind to try and build another. A transition goes to the very heart of our emotions and our identity. If we want to really feel happy and fulfilled, we have to do more than find a different job; we have to confront ourselves and ask, from one fleeing moment to another: How does this make your feel? If you’re feeling down, or agitated, or anxious, why is that? What is it that gives you confidence right now?  What is it that nourishes you?

Perhaps we need to remember that tears, like rain, play a nourishing role. They help us to grow.

We also have to admit to those negative emotions, which we try so hard to fight or to brush under the carpet. If we don’t want them to fester inside us, leading to illness and dis-ease, we have to do more than admit to them; we have to accept them into our lives, as part of us. It’s only by doing this that we can learn from them and learn about ourselves and who we really are. In my case, I’m beginning to realise that there’ve been many times when I’ve tried to ‘rise above’ a difficult situation, when in fact what I’ve probably done is buried it deep inside me, bottled it, instead of fully processing or even feeling it. This is understandable when you’re doing human rights or humanitarian work – we wouldn’t be very effective at our jobs if we were constantly in tears at every injustice we witnessed or experienced. But also in our everyday personal lives, it’s difficult to stop and confront our feelings. Whilst living under the same roof as my parents, I find myself hiding my emotions all the time in order to try and maintain a harmonious environment in the house – one that doesn’t upset or offend my parents, or lead to an argument or tensions. But this is not natural – we cannot remain strong and stoic all the time – and sooner or later the real emotions come flooding out, and our vulnerabilities and fears are laid bare. It is only once we fully release those emotions that we can really heal.

Why did a few sessions of acupressure unleash such strong emotions in me, causing me to cry on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis? Some of my friends have laughed when I’ve questioned this; You were working in Palestine for a year, you’ve been doing human rights work and activism for ten years, and now you’re living with your parents and trying to manage their emotions as well as your own – and you wonder why you’ve been crying?? It’s very hard for us to see these things for ourselves, much like it’s hard to admit to that term used to describe the emotional turmoil felt by development workers and activists – burnout. But if we see burnout as it’s described by the Activist Trauma Network – symptoms of irritability, feelings of hopelessness/helplessness/cynicism, non-enjoyment of activities enjoyed in the past, difficulty in making decisions, inability to stay focussed, and fatigue or other physical effects – we realise that such emotions are common, and likely to be experienced by every person doing this kind of work.

Were my tears an expression of all of the above? Perhaps. Or perhaps I was crying over the heartache of failed relationships, or over the difficulties of my childhood, or over the hurt I’ve felt whilst dealing with each family crisis. I may not have the answers, but I do believe that the tears were necessary as part of the journey of transition. It is only once we have truly uncovered our emotions that we can begin to heal.

And so as we embark on the season of reflection, I think it’s important to try to embrace whatever comes, good or bad, much the same way we embraced the joy of the summer. It is only from truly experiencing darker moments, living and feeling them, that we can better understand ourselves, and appreciate the happiness that follows.

Alternative therapy works in mysterious ways. Little did I know that an acupressure session with a Qi Master trained in the Korean tradition of Eastern medicine could be so powerful. Now I don’t want to scare readers off here – this is not a blog post about the pitfalls of dabbling with medical practices which are not from our own tried and tested Western tradition. I’ve learned a lot in the last two weeks about the importance of addressing mind, body and soul holistically. What I’ve found is that in Western medicine although we may believe we’ve fixed ourselves by talking to a psychotherapist or taking anti-depressants, this is not always enough. Sometimes we have to go even deeper than what is bugging us in our minds, and work at what is buried in the pit of our stomach.

When I first visited the acupressure clinic two weeks ago I thought I was fine, generally. So life hasn’t been great recently; I’d returned from Palestine last year full of a mixture of sadness for having left, anger over what I witnessed and experienced there, and disappointment over what I was coming back to – unemployment and dependence on my parents. On top of all of this I had a major family crisis at the beginning of this year which threatened to completely crack the veneer I’d built for myself of being solid, strong and able to overcome anything.  I worked through all of this, reminding myself of what I was grateful for, of how lucky I was, and that this was exactly where I needed to be right now – just still, and with myself. I’ve been embracing this time as much as possible – writing, spending time with my parents, taking dance classes, baking. I’ve been busy!

And so it was with all these nuggets of self-assurance that I entered the acupressure clinic to have my first session. I was seen by a Senior Qi Master. ‘Qi’ simply means energy – and refers to the thousands of energy channels we have throughout our body which, according to Eastern medicine, can sometimes get blocked – in different areas and for different emotional or physical reasons. These blockages may manifest themselves in a variety of ways – through a pain in one of our limbs, irritable bowels or skin, or through our emotional responses.

A one hour session with a Senior Qi Master consisted of a consultation and a massage which lasted only 20 minutes, during which time the Qi Master pressed various acupressure points on my body as a way of releasing energy blockages, which was accompanied by strange vocal sounds a bit like a gush of running water; these sounds are meant to stimulate the energy flow within the body.

After the first session I left the clinic feeling slightly confused and perplexed by what I’d experienced and been told in that one hour – apparently I was holding a lot of anger, which was manifesting itself in a blockage in my liver and bowel area. Indeed, when the Qi Master pressed her fingers into this area, it was noticeably, and surprisingly, painful.

Staring down into the lake near my home is a great way to bring calm to an over-cluttered mind.

Two weeks on, and I have been in tears on most days, to the point of hysteria at times. I’m not one to cry much – perhaps I haven’t cried enough in my lifetime. But I was not expecting this assault on my emotional wellbeing. I’ve had my days of feeling low or depressed like anyone else. But when you can barely face getting up in the morning, or having a conversation with anybody; when the slightest glance at an upsetting piece of news or even a loving message from a caring friend, sends you back down the well of self-pity – then you know this is no ordinary bout of the blues. The tears were, quite literally, uncontrollable – liable to appear at any moment, unannounced. At my darkest moments I seriously wondered whether I was cracking up. I started planning my funeral – what people would be saying about me, what music would be playing, who would know or care about my tragic death….alarm bells were ringing at this point; these are the signs of depression – that complete self-absorption, where nothing else really matters other than how lonely and upset you feel at that moment. Every person you talk to, every programme you watch or article you read, appears to provide a reminder of how grim and hopeless your life is. This is not helped by the consumerist society we live in; I found myself resentful of some car advert which portrayed the idyllic life of a couple falling in love, having a baby, and owning their perfect vehicle.

This would appear to be a step back from all the progress I’ve made over the last few months in what I had named in January as my year of growth and acceptance. Only a few weeks ago I was embracing the abundance of opportunities presented to a girl in transition, and now I find myself crying over a car advert. How was I to know that an hour with a Qi Master would have this effect? Even she told me, on my return there last week, looking all dishevelled and forlorn, that she had never seen anyone have quite such a powerful reaction.

What was quite astounding, and confirmation if I needed it that it was indeed the acupressure that was bringing out these emotions, was that after my second session the pain had subsided – both emotionally and physically. It didn’t hurt so much when she pressed the area around my liver, and afterwards I felt like something had lifted. This is not to say that those dark feelings have disappeared completely. I’ve had my moments since then, when I’ve felt desperate and lonely, when I’ve had to walk out the house and head straight to the nearby lake and sit there for a while watching the birds, through my tears, to reach a semblance of calm. Any kind of grieving is a process after all – those emotions don’t just evaporate overnight.

What can one take from this? Perhaps my reaction to the treatment was so strong because I had opened myself up to it – part of my process of surrendering and being present over the last few months. How often do we escape or cover up our real emotions, thereby allowing them to fester and grow inside us? It has also been suggested to me that this is ‘the healing crisis’ – a moment when we have a breakthrough which may appear to come out of nowhere and can be extremely painful, but which puts us on the path of truly being healed from all the negative emotions we’ve buried in our subconscious over the years.  Only time will tell. It was not a mistake to subject myself to this Eastern therapy. If something needs to be released, then we should let it out, no matter how painful it is. The process of healing whatever has caused us pain is an erratic journey – two steps forward, one step back. The challenge is to not let that discourage us from continuing on our path, and learning from whatever life throws at us.

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.”

Paulo Coelho

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